When word first got out that Netflix were releasing a new original series called Santa Clarita Diet, initial thoughts circulated as what it could be about: A cooking show? Fitness programme? Do-it-yourself reality TV? The title and content remained ambiguous, so when trailers were eventually released a while later, it’s safe to say that many were surprised at the exact topics that were be covered.
Drew Barrymore and Justified’s Timothy Olyphant star as Sheila and Joel Hammond – real estate agents living in the residential town of Santa Clarita, California. The couple live very sedate lives as successful businesspeople and parents to 16-year-old Abby (Liv Hewson), but events start to take a dark turn, when Sheila starts to feel unwell – something of an understatement, after we see her projectile vomit a liquid ton. Sheila goes through an unusual transformation and her husband Joel and daughter soon discover that she is, in fact, dead.
While this may sound like your regular zombie sub-genre, the preferred term here is “undead” – as next door neighbour and geek-informative Eric (Skyler Gisondo) notes: “I don’t like that word [zombie] ; I think its inherently negative.” Discovering that she’s not living soon causes some irregularity in Sheila’s daily routine: she can only eat raw meat; has a higher sex drive; is inherently strong; and cannot feel pain. Now, many of us would choose to see this as an integrally negative factor in our lives, whereas Sheila chooses to see this as a positive – that is until she can no longer sustain her hunger through raw animal meat and turns to human flesh.
Santa Clarita Diet is a bit funny – in more ways than one. The show starts off a little rocky, and you question why you’re going to dedicate five hours of your time to a series about a dead American white woman and her newfound problems. But as you begin to dedicate yourself to the show, you commence to understand and come to like these original characters.
Barrymore makes her first television appearance since 2009’s HBO TV movie Grey Gardens – for which she scooped up a Golden Globe for Best Actress – and her very first series since she took somewhat of an acting hiatus, after giving birth to her two daughters. However, it is nothing but uplifting to see Barrymore on the screen again – and in candid, funny, no-holds-barred form. The foremost of the series’ gore (and it really is full-on, blood-curdling grotesque) comes from its leading lady; Barrymore does not hold back, allowing you to genuinely squirm at the blood, guts and violence that is beheld onscreen.
The series’ leading man, Olyphant, is nothing but charismatic, humorous and charming as Barrymore’s onscreen husband and the duo obtain glittering chemistry, which is the primary and fundamental core of the series. The show’s supporting characters are equally funny, with the couple’s next door neighbours – portrayed by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Joy Osmanski and Richard T. Jones – adding candid humour into the mix, not to mention a recurring shop assistant clerk who leaves you loving and hating her at the same time.
Santa Clarita Diet makes you initially feel that it’s not funny enough to continue watching, but it’s also not disinteresting enough to turn off either – it’s a real enigma. You can’t decide if it’s intermittently copycat-ing or characteristically original; whether it’s predominantly stupid or inherently progressive – but maybe that’s it’s defining factor. The series is reminiscent of Robert Zemeckis’ Death Becomes Her, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and you find yourself pondering whether the series is a just a mix of Dexter meets Modern Family. However, while the show gives you serious gore-fest action as well as some laugh-out-loud moment, its golden charm is undoubtedly its bizarrely romantic ambience. As you see Joel going to extreme lengths to satisfy his wife’s cannibalistic needs, you can’t help but feel that this is perhaps the healthiest onscreen relationship you’ve seen in a long time. (#lifegoals.)
Santa Clarita Diet exudes a real optimism that is candidly and culturally refreshing. You start off unsure as to whether this will be for you but then you find yourself smiling at blood, guts and vomit and you know what? You’re dead happy about it.
All episodes of Santa Clarita Diet are available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.